Do you know how your tax dollars are being spent? Each year, the city of Austin acquires its General Fund money from revenue sources such as property tax, sales tax, development and utility transfers. The city then uses this money, which amounted to about $1 billion for the 2017–2018 fiscal year, to provide its residents with community services. Of that amount, a stunning 66.7 percent — or $684.5 million — was allocated to public safety, which includes services such as EMS, the fire department and the police force.
Of the public safety funds, Austin Police Department uses up the majority, with its generous budget sitting at about $403 million. However, only 24.2 percent, or $248.8 million, was set aside for community services, which include community necessities such as public libraries, public health programs, parks and recreation and neighborhood housing and community development. APD’s annual budget alone is nearly twice the amount of the meager one set aside for programs that both serve the public and have been shown to significantly mitigate crime. This is clearly an inefficient use of valuable community resources. As Austin taxpayers, it is our social responsibility to push for policies that are both accessible and efficient at improving this city for everyone.
It should be stated that the police force is, and always will be, a necessary component of crime reduction. However, it should not be the main focus, as it is neither more cost-effective or efficient than policing at mitigating local crime. Recent studies show that expanding substance abuse treatment centers into unserved counties has the potential to vastly reduce the amount of individuals participating in illegal activity by providing proper treatment, as well as reducing the amount of violent crime that often spills over from the drug trade. Allocating money for more treatment centers would be a crucial step toward community improvement, as three out of every five state prisoners struggle with substance abuse, and two-thirds of inmates released from prison are rearrested within three years. Clearly the police aren’t equipped to handle this pressing issue, and we need to look into programs that will. In the long term, these programs would save both lives and money.
Substance abuse treatment centers are not the only way to reduce crime without police involvement, however. In the United States, the peak hours for youth to commit, or be victims of, crimes are from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., after school is out and most parents are not home. Real life examples demonstrate that after school programs are an efficient antidote to this. For example, implementation of after school programs in various public housing developments in New York City resulted in the decline of drug activity by 22 percent, youth arrests by 13 percent and vandalism by 12.5 percent. By doing likewise in the city of Austin, we would see significant decreases in crime rates while simultaneously strengthening communal ties.
I would never deny the positive aspects of good policing. But there are ways proven more effective to mitigate crime in cities while also using tax money for resources that directly benefit citizens. If this misuse of precious funding is something that bothers you — and it should be — speak up. Let your voices be heard. And let your money work towards something that actually works.
Braaten is a international relations and global studies junior from Conroe.